Amazing Facts About the Golden Gate Bridge

November 4, 2015

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The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most iconic structures in the world, and it stands as one of the most impressive feats of engineering that took place in the 20th century.  When the bridge opened in 1937, it became the suspension bridge with the longest main span in the world, a title it held until 1964.  Here are some more amazing facts about this impressive bridge.

1. The financing of the Golden Gate Bridge came largely from local citizens.  Voters approved a $35 million dollar bond package in 1930, and of all things, required them to put up their homes and businesses as collateral.  Even though the country was caught in the Great Depression at the time, voters approved the construction by a three to one margin.  The last of the bonds were retired in 1971.  The total for building the bridge came out to be $35 million in principal, and $39 million in interest that came from bridge tolls.

2.  The initial design of the Golden Gate Bridge by chief engineer Joseph Strauss was rejected, mainly because the cantilever bridge he came up with was ugly and not because of its functionality.  Strauss made the wise decision to bring in other engineers on the project to eventually come up with the bridge’s final and elegant design.

3.  The U.S. War Department, being a little too practical, didn’t want the bridge to be constructed at first, in the fear that ships would be stranded and trapped in the bay if the bridge was ever attacked or met with some other type of disaster.  After finally giving the go ahead on the construction, the War Department made another request that the bridge be painted with yellow and black stripes so the bridge would be clearly visible to ships in the often occurring fog.  Even the Army Air Corps wanted a different paint scheme.  They chose a red and white stripe motif so the bridge would be more visible from the air.  Of course neither of them got their way.

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4.  Even though the bridge had overwhelming support by the voters, it didn’t stop the filing of a plethora of lawsuits to stop construction of the bridge.  About 2,300 lawsuits were filed against it in 1930.  One such suit came from Southern Pacific Railroad.  They owned 51% of a ferry company that moved cars and people between Marin County and San Francisco.  The opening of the bridge was obviously going to cut into their bottom line.  Another suit came from the Sierra Club and famed photographer Ansel Adams.  They felt the bridge would be a blight on the natural state of the strait.

5.  The cost to build the Golden Gate Bridge today would be around $1.2 billion dollars.

6.  There are approximately 600,000 rivets in each Golden Gate Tower.  When the original rivets become corroded, they are replaced with high-strength galvanized bolts.

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7.  The color of the bridge was not supposed to be the color it is.  Steel to build the bridge had been coated in a primer to protect it from the elements, and it was a shade of orange.  One of the architects on the job named Irving Morrow preferred the color to more traditional colors for bridges such as black or gray, since it blended with the natural scenery surrounding the bridge. The color was also easily visible to ships passing through the area.  The Golden Gate Bridge isn’t gold at all and a sort of orange hue, but the official color of the bridge is called “International Orange”. The paint for the bridge is currently supplied by Sherwin Williams who won by a competitive bidding process, and the paint can even be matched since the color formula is well known.

8.  The Golden Gate Bridge is named after the Golden Gate Strait, the entrance from the Pacific to San Francisco.  The strait was named by Army Captain John C. Fremont around 1846, and it resembled a harbor he knew in Istanbul that was called Chrysoceras, or Golden Horn.

9.   The construction of the Golden Gate Bridge had the highest safety standards up until that time.  The chief engineer, Joseph Strauss, mandated that workers had to wear hard hats, the first site to do so in America.  He also implemented a revolutionary piece of safety equipment for $130,000–the safety net.  The net saved the lives of 19 workers who dubbed themselves the “Halfway to Hell Club”.

10. Amazingly, only eleven men lost their lives during the four year construction of the bridge when the rate of death on a construction project of that size usually measured up to one man killed for every million dollars spent.  Up until 1937, there had only been one fatality.  But on February 17, 1937, ten men lost their lives when a 5-ton platform broke from the bridge and fell through the safety net.

11. On opening day, the San Francisco Chronicle referred to the bridge as a thirty-five million dollar steel harp.  15,000 people flooded the bridge every hour that first day.  It was known as “Pedestrian Day”, and they paid 25 cents apiece to cross the bridge.

12.  The Golden Gate Bridge isn’t painted as much as some may think.  1965 was the first time the bridge was completely repainted when the original lead-based paint was replaced with an inorganic zinc silicate primer and acrylic emulsion topcoat.  Later in the 1980s it was replaced by a water-borne inorganic zinc primer and an acrylic topcoat.  The painting of the bridge now consists primarily of touch up jobs to areas that need it.

13.  The first person to commit suicide on the bridge was H.B. Wobber in August 1937.  He got off a bus on the bridge and jumped over the side, even though a tourist nearby tried to stop him.  The Golden Gate Bridge has the unsavory title of being the top suicide location in the world.  More than 1,500 people have committed suicide by jumping from the bridge.  That is about one person about every three weeks.  11 telephones are placed along the bridge for crisis counseling and are connected to suicide prevention counselors.  Over 30 people have survived after jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge.

14. The bridge has been closed three times because of weather and other times because of construction work or anniversaries.  The longest shutdown occurred on December 3, 1983, when 75 mile per hour winds blew across the bridge.  It closed for three hours and 27 minutes.

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15.  The one billionth driver to cross the bridge was a dentist named Dr. Arthur Molinari.  He crossed on February 22, 1985 and received a case of champagne and a hard hat.

16.  On the 50th anniversary of the bridge on May 24, 1987, 800,000 people showed up to the celebration.  Officials were only expecting 50,000.  The bridge had a deflection of its midspan by almost ten feet from the huge load being imposed on it.  The bridge swayed side to side causing many to become nauseous and panicked.  The arch of the bridge even flattened.  It was the greatest load the bridge had experienced in its lifetime.  A report later explained that even with the tremendous load, the bridge was still safe.  The bridge deck was designed to move 27 feet side to side, and 15 feet vertically.

17. The toll to pass on the bridge is $8.40 for a two-axle car or motorcycle, $42 for a 5-axle vehicle such as a semi-tractor trailer, and up to $58.80 for a vehicle with 7-axles or more. Tolls are only for the southbound direction going into San Francisco, and tolls are no longer collected at the bridge.

Sources: New York Times, Golden Gate Tolls, History, Golden Gate Bridge.org, California State Parks, Golden Gate Bridge Information

Updated April 12, 2021

About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of great trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium. I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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